Today a Quiz. Here are two super sharp photos of plants from very different families. What are they?
Quiz #1: The top photo is a focus stack of 100 images. In real life the image would be 2mm wide so I think it’s been magnified about 80 times. (This one is hard to guess. It helps to squint your eyes to make it look small.)
Quiz #2: The photo below is a focus stack of 70 macro images. What it is?
If you’re desperate for clues, click the links on the captions to view the photo descriptions. Here’s a clue for #2: It’s edible.
Have an idea? Leave a comment with your answer.
p.s. In case you’re curious … Focus stackingis a digital processing technique in which the photographer takes multiple images of the same object at different focal points, then digitally merges the photos to produce a completely in-focus image. The object has to hold still and so does the camera. It requires special software to merge the images.
This video shows how it works.
(photos and video from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
When I bought this stalk of Brussels sprouts, I wondered about the wild plant it came from. Did you know that cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale, collard greens, kohlrabi and Brussels sprouts are all the same species? Every one of them is a cultivar of Brassica oleracea, also called wild cabbage.
Wild cabbage is a biennial that grows naturally on limestone sea cliffs in Europe. In its first year it’s a rosette of leaves. In its second year it blooms. As you can see by the flowers, it’s a member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae or Cruciferae).
Ten thousand years ago humans foraged for wild cabbage leaves. At the dawn of agriculture we began to cultivate them. One thing led to another, as described at Wikipedia:
Sometimes we think Pittsburgh is boring in January but there’s still a lot to see outdoors. On New Years Day I joined the Botanical Society of Western PA for a walk in North Park. Here’s what we found.
Above, black privet berries (Ligustrum genus) stand out against the sky. Privet, an invasive plant, is found at the old farm along Irwin Road. The house and barn no longer stand but ornamental trees and shrubs remain, including the Ozark witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis) we always trek to see. Our hike leader, Richard Nugent, said it will bloom pink in February. Here’s a bursting bud.
Unusual trees caught our attention, some with burls, others with holes. Two of the best are pictured below.
We also saw and heard red-tailed hawks circling overhead. (example photo below)
In January they claim territory with lots of circling and screaming. Here’s what they sound like. No, that is not the sound of an eagle.
During winter expect the unexpected. There’s more to see than you’d think.
(plant photos by Kate St. John, red-tailed hawk photo by Melissa McMasters via Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)
Most robins move south in the fall but some remain north in large flocks that wander in search of abundant fruit. They choose Pittsburgh in December because we have lots of fruit on our native trees, ornamentals, invasive vines, and shrubs.
Lichens are two organisms that operate as one, a symbiotic partnership of a fungus with a green or blue-green algae (sometimes all three). The algae’s photosynthesis feeds the fungus. The fungus gathers and retains water and nutrients and protects the algae.
Those that grow on trees are epiphytes, totally dependent on the surrounding air and precipitation for their nutrition. As they take in air, their tissues absorb suspended elements in concentrations that mimic the air quality.
Lichens can thrive in some of the harshest habitats on earth but epiphytes can’t live in the presence of air pollution, so we were really surprised to find them on our Duck Hollow walk on 29 October 2019 when the air smelled of rotten eggs.
The smell is hydrogen sulfide from US Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, 8 miles away. On cold calm days the pollution creeps up the Mon Valley and blankets Pittsburgh’s East End, a reminder of Pittsburgh’s Smoky City days.
The pollution happens all too frequently, as shown in these screenshots from SmellPGH.org on 28 and 29 Oct 2019. (SmellPGH is a crowd-sourced app for reporting air pollution smells. Many dark red triangles mean the air smelled really bad that day. Click here for more info.)
We can smell hydrogen sulfide but not two dangerous air pollutants that travel with it: sulfur dioxide and particulate. Fructose lichens — the kind that stand out from the branch like those shown above — cannot survive in the presence of sulfur dioxide.
We were amazed. What have we here?
(photos by John Bauman, screenshots from SmellPGH.org; click on the captions to see the SmellPGH website)
Travel is a tonic for seeing the world in new ways. This month my husband and I spent a week with his sister at Cape Cod where we had new weather, new scenery and new looks at plants I might have seen at home.
Our timing was pretty good. We missed the October 12 nor’easter but were on hand for the October 17 “bomb cyclone.” We didn’t lose power, but it was still very windy on the 18th when I visited Fort Hill, pictured above.
Birds were hard to find that day so I noticed plants such as this European spindle-tree (Euonymous europaeus) with puffy, pink, four-sided fruits.
The puffballs are actually a casing that holds orange fruit within. This ornamental has probably been planted in Pittsburgh, though I’ve never noticed it.
My favorite discovery was a hole in a leaf.
Who ate it? Perhaps this caterpillar did. I found him elsewhere on the plant.
And finally, the sun touched translucent red berries and made them glow at Bell’s Neck.
The small plants have a single leaf midway up the stem (lefthand photo) and were growing among pine needles. Please leave a comment to tell me what they are.
p.s. Thank you to Kerry Givens who identified the red berries as a Canada mayflower and the caterpillar as a Turbulent Phosphila moth.
(photos by Kate St. John except where noted in the captions; click the captions to see the originals)
(*) Spores definition from Google dictionary: Spores are minute, typically one-celled, reproductive unit capable of giving rise to a new individual without sexual fusion, characteristic of lower plants, fungi, and protozoans.